Joint practices have surged in popularity in recent seasons around the NFL, bringing a mixture of good, bad and ugly into the prep work leading up to the first preseason game. On Monday, the Green Bay Packers got more of the ugly than anything in their joint sessions with the Houston Texans when a fight broke out between players.
According to ESPN staff writer Rob Demonvsky, the scuffle began when Texans safety Lonnie Johnson Jr. hit Packers rookie tight end Jace Sternberger hard enough for his helmet to come flying off. It didn’t take long for a mob of players from both teams to join the fray, with Packers singling out Johnson for his cheap shot.
Sternberger, who Texans’ A.J. Moore had already been pummeled in earlier reps, was taken inside to get assessed but returned several minutes later and participated through the rest of the practice.
The Packers’ third-round pick in 2019, Sternberger is a catch-first tight end who figures to make the 53-man roster in Green Bay behind likely starter Jimmy Graham.
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Rough History of Joint NFL Practices
Despite the benefit of practicing against an unfamiliar unit, fights are a regular concern when teams host joint practices — for one reason or another.
Last season’s big brawl came between the New York Jets and Washington Redskins after the latter’s running back, Chris Thompson, took some additional shoves after being tackled on the sideline.
Before the Jets-Redskins joint sessions began, then-Jets wide receiver Terrelle Pryor discussed the possibility of tensions flaring in the matchup with his former Washington teammates.
“If they take dirty shots. I’m sure we’ll handle that accordingly. You start trying to make it an individual thing, it takes away from our team. I don’t want to individualize myself.”
—Jets wide receiver Terrelle Pryor via NJ.com in 2018
Sometimes even, a history of beef between two players — say, Ravens wide receiver Michael Crabtree and Rams cornerback Aqib Talib — gets brawl talk started before the joint practice reps even begin.
Put it this way: There have been enough fights caught on video over the years for there to be lists of the best ones. It’s pulled in all levels of teams, too, from the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots in 2014 to the “Fight for L.A.” in 2017 between the freshly-relocated Rams and Chargers.
The concept of joint practices makes sense from a live-reps perspective. For example, if the Packers offense is burning its defense during training camp, is the offense truly good or is the defense just bad? On the flip side, if the defense is eating the offense alive, are they truly making good reads or are they just familiar with the playbook?
Making realistic evaluations can be difficult, hence one of the greatest upsides of hosting competitive joint sessions. Even if they can get chippy.
Settling the Score
Following Monday’s scuffle with the Packers, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien admitted he sent Johnson “to the showers” after making hard hits in the joint practice but dismissed it as “not a big deal.”
Chances are, though, the Packers won’t have forgotten or forgiven the Texans’ conduct before their Thursday’s 7 p.m. preseason matchup at Lambeau Field.
Even Packers head coach Matt LaFleur reportedly wanted a piece of the action when he saw someone coming for one of his players.
The Packers aren’t likely to retaliate Thursday night in any grand fashion but expect the tension to linger at least as long as the first-team players are on the field.